By Rei Toma | Published by VIZ Media
In premise, Dawn of Arcana sounds like fairly generic shoujo fantasy. Princess Nakaba of Senan is married to Prince Caesar of Belquat in an arrangement ostensibly meant to ensure peace between their warring kingdoms, but which nobody expects to do so for long. Nakaba is resigned to her fate, but not without backbone, while Caesar is arrogant and entitled and makes remarks like, “Make no mistake. You are my property.” It’s pretty obvious they will fall for each other soon.
Accompanying Nakaba is her demi-human attendant, Loki, who belongs to an enslaved race possessed of heightened strength and senses. He’s been by Nakaba’s side ever since the village in which she lived was attacked by Belquat soldiers—evidently, her mother (also a princess) eloped with a member of a race possessed of precognitive powers, which Belquat was attempting to wipe out and of which Nakaba is now the only survivor—and so she feels much love and gratitude for him.
The first volume mainly focuses on Nakaba’s attempts to fit in around the enemy castle. In Senan and Belquat, only royalty have black hair, so the fact that hers is red has always prompted sneers, curiosity, and contempt, so the reaction would be the same no matter where she resided. Gradually, she gets to know Caesar a little better, and we see that his main problems are youth and actually buying into the “it’s your right” lectures that his mother has been subjecting him to since childhood. Here’s a great sample exchange between them:
Caesar: (After planting a smooch on Nakaba.) I’m a prince, and this is my kingdom. If I want something, I take it.
Nakaba: You may be a prince, but there are some things you’ll never have. Allow me to be the first.
Nakaba actually trusts him to keep his word when he promises to help Loki get out of trouble at one point, and expresses faith in his abilities to succeed in the very endeavors which his mother discouraged him from even trying. In return, he somewhat awkwardly tries to make her happy by bestowing lavish gifts upon her, and learns that a simple thing like caring for a wounded bird does the job better than fancy dresses. It’s certainly nothing new for a surly hero to be thus tamed by a spunky heroine, but I like the development all the same.
And speaking of development, volume two is a lot more interesting than the first. While someone plots to poison Caesar—and attempts to frame Nakaba for the deed—tension is brewing between Nakaba’s husband and her attendant. Loki intervenes to save Caesar from the would-be assassin, but admits that this is only to earn his trust. “I do want him dead… Have you forgotten? They are the enemy.” For too long, Loki’s people have been kept down, and he is now plotting rebellion. “You must not let him into your heart,” he warns, knowing that Caesar must eventually be his target, but though Nakaba attempts to comply, out of loyalty to Loki, she’s ultimately unable to do so.
Despite the fact that Nakaba falling for Caesar is predictable, I still like them together—how she improves him, and how he manages to make her feel safe yet simultaneously guilty—and I really like that she’s torn between these two guys, but not exactly in a romantic sense. Even while her feelings for Caesar are growing, she’s aware of the possibility that she’ll end up betraying him for Loki’s sake. Personally, I’m betting on Caesar becoming aware of the atrocities committed by his father and joining Loki’s cause—there have been some hints in this direction already—but the angst will be fun in the meantime.
Ultimately, this is a solidly good series. It’s not great yet, but it’s also far from bad.
Dawn of the Arcana is published in English by VIZ Media. Volume one is out now and volume two will officially be released on February 7, 2012. The series is ongoing in Japan, where the ninth volume has just come out.
Review copies provided by the publisher.